Stockton Lake is a 24,900-acre U. S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir located in Cedar, Dade and Polk counties in southwestern Missouri. Overall fishing prospects for sport fish species will be good this year. Gizzard shad production continues to be good, supporting quality game fish populations. In 2018 lake levels were slightly high and remained stable during the spawn, which resulted in good spawning conditions for most sport fish species.
Crappie fishing on Stockton should continue to be excellent in 2019. High spring water levels in 2015 provided excellent spawning conditions for crappie. This produced big year classes of both black and white crappie, including one of the largest year classes of white crappie seen on Stockton in the last 24 years. Recent trapnetting surveys revealed that many of these fish have survived and could be abundant in 2019. Thus, anglers are likely to find good numbers of 11-plus inch white crappie in the spring of 2019. Additionally, a strong year class of white crappie produced in 2016 should provide anglers with additional keeper fish throughout the summer. Black crappie size structure was also good with 30% of the fish sampled over the 10-inch minimum length limit. Crappies are often caught using small jigs or minnows around brush structure. The Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Conservation have created and replenished a large number of fish attractors at Stockton in the recent past. Angling success has been good on these structures throughout the year. A map of attractor locations and GPS points can be found at mdc.mo.gov. A good amount of the attractors are marked with signs on the lake shore. For those without GPS technology, attractors can be found using a sonar fish finder in 20 feet of water (at lake water elevation of 867) just in front of signs.
Largemouth bass are the most numerous black bass species in Stockton Lake, especially in the upper portions of the lake. Spotted bass and smallmouth bass are present throughout the lake, but make up larger percentages of the population in the lower portion of the lake. Sampling is conducted on each of the major lake arms on alternate years. Largemouth bass catch rates from 2017 on the Little Sac Arm were below the long-term average, in fact the second-lowest since 2007. Size structure was poor with only 10% of fish sampled reaching the 15-inch minimum length limit; however, this could be partially attributed to less than optimal sampling conditions at the time. Sampling efforts were hampered by inclement weather and rising water levels. In 2018, largemouth bass catch rates on the Big Sac Arm were down from 2016 and slightly below the long-term average. However, size structure was good with 28% of the fish sampled over the 15-inch minimum length limit. Additionally, high spring water levels in 2015 produced a solid year class of fish. Many of these fish will reach the 15-inch minimum length limit in 2019. This could provide anglers with more keepers in the future.
Walleye fishing should continue to be good in 2019. Walleyes are stocked in Stockton Lake at 1-2 inches in size and typically grow to 15 inches in two years. In 2012 the Stockton Lake walleye stocking regime was changed from a biennial (every other year) stocking to an annual stocking. Thus, walleye have been stocked in each of the last seven years. Walleye from the 2017-year class have been virtually absent in our sampling efforts thus far. It is possible that less than optimal stocking conditions experienced in 2017 could have resulted in poor walleye recruitment that year. This could result in anglers catching fewer Walleyes in the 14-16-inch range in 2019. Fortunately, we have seen several years of good recruitment prior to 2017, which should provide anglers with larger fish. Walleyes stocked in 2018 will offer catch-and-release opportunities in 2019. Electrofishing surveys conducted in the spring of 2017 revealed catch rates slightly below the long-term average. Size structure was good with nearly 100% of the fish sampled at least 15 inches or longer and 16% of fish at least 20 inches or longer. Techniques used for walleye angling depend upon the time of year and confidence anglers have with different methods. In the spring and fall, walleye are often found along the dam, in coves, and in more shallow water. During the summer season, it is important to fish for walleyes at or around the depth of the thermocline. Walleye are often caught using nightcrawlers or minnows bounced along the bottom in 15 to 20 feet of water during mid-summer. Trolling deep-running or suspending crankbaits or casting these baits along the shoreline and windswept main lake points can be equally effective at certain times of the year. Be sure to use good release practices on sub-legal fish which will increase the chances of the fish’s survival.
According to angler reports, white bass fishing was excellent on Stockton Lake in 2018. White bass fishing in 2019 should continue to be good, as white bass recruitment has been strong throughout the last few years. Spring white bass spawning runs occur near or in the lake’s tributary streams from mid-March to the end of April. During July and August anglers can often find white bass chasing schools of shad in the early morning and late evening hours on the main lake open water areas. In the fall, angling efforts should be concentrated on windy main lake points or banks. Shallow crankbaits, rooster tails, swimbaits, and white jigs are good choices for catching white bass. Both flathead and channel catfish are present in the lake and at times will provide good fishing. The upper half of the lake or large coves will usually provide the best channel catfish angling opportunities. Mid-May to mid-June, just before the spawning season, is usually the best time to fish for catfish. Trotlines or jug lines baited with live baits are the method of choice for most flathead anglers. Bluegill fishing should be excellent on Stockton in 2019. Good numbers of 6 to 8-inch bluegills are common. Bluegill fishing is usually best during the summer months using small portions of nightcrawlers or crickets around structure 15 to 20 foot deep. The many bridge pillars throughout the lake are a great place to escape the summer sun and get into some good bluegill fishing.